Sham Stakes: Road to Derby or Dead-End for Baffert, Lukas

Friday's Sham Stakes could have more bearing on the Kentucky Derby picture than many of the bigger stakes run this time of year. With Bob Baffert and Wayne Lukas scrambling to find one of the last remaining paths to Louisville, the nine-furlong race could provide that path or just about end any hopes the two past Derby dominators have of making it to Churchill Downs with a leading contender.

Baffert also has a gritty, honest colt named Danthebluegrassman shuttling back and forth from Golden Gate, but Officer and China Grind have fallen off the Derby trail; Popular has been battling in one sprint after another and may simply be too speed crazy now to stretch out successfully; last-out winners Chaos N Confusion and Hawk's Top Gun have not been on the worktab since their victories; Six G's and Strive have been working sharply, but have yet to break their maidens; and True Monarch turned in a disappointing effort in a recent allowance race.

That leaves Puerto Banus, the Thoroughbred Corp colt who has the look and pedigree of a Derby horse. Baffert is not fooling around, throwing the son of Supremo right back into the ring only nine days after his fourth-place finish in a one-mile allowance race. It's major catch-up time, and Baffert knows he has to find out what he has, and find out now.

Puerto Banus closed like a wild horse to get up at the wire in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden race in his career debut, then ran a decent race in last week's allowance race, going widest of all at the head of the stretch. He ran evenly through the stretch and was beaten only 1 3/4 lengths by Pelirrojo. If there is one thing this colt has going for him it's his pedigree. We expect him to show big improvement Friday stretching out to 1 1/8 miles.

His sire, Supremo, who won the Norfolk Stakes, is by Gone West out of a half-sister to the stamina influence Dynaformer. This is vintage Darby Dan breeding. Also from this family comes top-class stakes winners Monarchos, Brian's Time, Sunshine Forever, Memories of Silver, Ryafan, Darby Creek Road, and Japanese 2,000 Guineas and St. Leger winner Air Shakur.

His female family has major classic/stamina names such as Vaguely Noble, Nijinsky II, Damascus, Buckpasser, and Tom Rolfe. Also in the female family is Sister Shu, who is a full-sister to Shuvee, two-time winner of the 2-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup. So, as you can see, there is stamina galore in this colt's pedigree.

As for Lukas, he's also had a tough winter so far, and is really counting on Shah Jehan, a $4.4 million yearling who was handed over to him by Coolmore after four starts in Europe. Lukas loved the progress the colt made when he first got him, but admits now he was hoping he'd be a bit farther advanced at this stage. At first, Lukas only listed him as 50-50 for the race, so we'll see what he decides to do.

Shah Jehan, who, according to Lukas, is named after the person who built the Taj Mahal, is a son of Mr. Prospector out of Voodoo Lily, who earned over $250,000 for Lukas. For all the dosage followers, Shaj Jehan has a dosage index of 4.14, above the necessary guideline of 4.00. That is due in great part to the close-up presence of Brilliant chef-de-race Baldski, combined with the Brilliant influences of Mr. Prospector (brilliant-classic) and Raise a Native.

Both colts will have plenty of competition from Definite Edge, Dave Hofmans' back-up for Siphonic who showed a good late kick breaking maiden before finishing a solid second in an allowance race. The son of Deputy Minister has an excellent pedigree on both sides, and could be one to watch over the next few months. There is also maiden winner Hot Contest, a son of Tabasco Cat; Cottonwood Cowboy, who disappointed last out after two straight victories, and USS Tinosa, from the strong Jerry Hollendorfer stable. With eight starts, two stakes victories and four stakes-placings, the son of Foxhound certainly has this field over a barrel when it comes to experience.